Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
In spite of the singular used in Psalm 44:6; Psalm 44:15, we recognise, in this psalm, a hymn expressive not of individual but of national feeling; a feeling, too, which certainly could not have received such an expression before the exile, before the spell of the fascination of the Canaanitish idolatries had passed away. Nor can the psalm be assigned to the exile period itself, for it does not reflect the profound spiritual insight that characterises the literature which undoubtedly belongs to that time. Ewald places it during the months that disturbed the early years of the return from captivity. The majority of critics, however, prefer the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. It might well have been inspired by one of those reverses, which so often came upon the struggling community of Israel, in consequence of their scrupulous concern for the Sabbath day, which did not even allow them to defend themselves. (See Note, Psalm 44:13-14.) The parallelism is fine and well sustained.
Title.—See title, Psalms 42, 32
To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, Maschil. We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old.(1) We have heard.—The glorious traditions of ancient deliverances wrought by Jehovah for His people were a sacred heritage of every Hebrew. (See Exodus 10:2; Exodus 12:26, seq.; Deuteronomy 6:20, etc.) This, and all the historical psalms, show how closely interwoven for the Jew were patriotism and religion.
How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out.(2) Thou . . . with thy hand.—Literally, Thou, Thy hand, which may be, as in the Authorised Version, taken as accusative of instrument, or as a repeated subject.
And cast them out.—This entirely misses the meaning and destroys the parallelism. The Hebrew word is that used for a treo spreading its branches out; comp. Jeremiah 17:8; Ezekiel 17:6; Ezekiel 31:5, and especially Psalm 80:11, a passage which is simply an amplification of the figure in this verse, viz., of a vine or other exotic, planted in a soil cleared for its reception, and there caused to grow and flourish. The pronoun them in each clause plainly refers to Israel.
Thou, with thine hand, didst dispossess the heathen,
And planted them (Israel) in.
Thou didst afflict the peoples.
But didst make them to spread.
For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them.(3) The light of thy countenance.—Notice the contrast to this in Psalm 44:24; in times of distress God’s face seemed hidden or averted.
Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob.(4) Thou art my King.—Literally, Thou, He, my king, an idiomatic way of making a strong assertion, Thou, even thou, art my king, O God. (Comp. Isaiah 43:25.) What God has done in the past may be expected again, and for a moment the poet forgets the weight of actual trouble in the faith that has sprung from the grateful retrospect over the past.
Through thee will we push down our enemies: through thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us.(5) Push down.—The image of the original is lost here, the LXX. have retained it. It is that of a buffalo or other horned animal driving back and goring its enemies. Deuteronomy 33:17 applies it as a special description of the tribe of Joseph. The figure is continued in the next clause; the infuriated animal tramples its victim under foot.
Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy: and they which hate us spoil for themselves.(10) For themselves—i.e., at their own will, an expression denoting the completeness of the overthrow of the Jews; they lie absolutely at their enemies’ pleasure.
Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat; and hast scattered us among the heathen.(11) Like sheep.—The image of the sheep appointed for the slaughter; and unable to resist, recalls Isaiah 53:6-7, but does not necessarily connect the Psalm with the exile period, since it was a figure likely to suggest itself in every time of helpless peril.
Thou sellest thy people for nought, and dost not increase thy wealth by their price.(12) For nought.—Literally, for not riches (comp. Jeremiah 15:13); notice the contrast to Psalm 72:14.
And dost not increase thy wealth by their price.—This rendering takes the verb as in Proverbs 22:16; but to make the two places exactly parallel, we should have “dost not increase for thee.” It is better, therefore, to make the clause synonymous with the last, and render thou didst not increase in (the matter of) their price, i.e., thou didst not set a high price on them.
Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us.(13, 14) These verses become very suggestive, if we refer them to one of those periods under the Seleucidæ, when the Jews were so frequently attacked on the Sabbath, and from their scrupulous regard to it would make no resistance.
Thou makest us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people.(14) Shaking of the head.—Comp. Psalm 22:7.
My confusion is continually before me, and the shame of my face hath covered me,(15) The shame.—Better take the face as a second object—shame hath covered me as to my face, i.e., covered my face. Though the record of the facts of a sad reality, these verses have also the value of a prophecy sadder still. Twenty centuries of misery are summed up in these few lines, which have been most literally repeated,
“By the torture, prolonged from age to age,
By the infamy, Israel’s heritage;
By the Ghetto’s plague, by the garb’s disgrace,
By the badge of shame, by the felon’s place.”
R. BROWNING: Holy Cross Day.
Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.(19) In the place of dragons.—This expression evidently means a wild desert place, from comparison with Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 10:22; Jeremiah 49:33. So Aquila has “an uninhabitable place.” The rendering dragons for tannim arose from its resemblance to tannîn (sea monster). The tan must be a wild beast, since it is connected with ostriches (Isaiah 34:13) and wild asses, whom it resembles in snuffing up the wind (Jeremiah 14:6), and is described as uttering a mournful howl (Isaiah 43:20; Micah 1:8; Job 30:29). The jackal is the animal that best answers these requirements. The LXX. and Vulg., which give various different renderings for the word, have here, “in the place of affliction.”
Shadow of death.—See Note, Psalm 23:4.
Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.(22) For thy sake.—For St. Paul’s quotation of this verse (Romans 8:36), see Note, N. Test. Commentary.
Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever.(23) Why sleepest.—Comp. Psalm 7:6, and see refs.